Royal Facts About Queen Soraya, Iran’s Lost Empress

In certain corners of the world, someone only has to whisper the name “Queen Soraya” to conjure up a story of sweeping beauty, royal betrayal, and lasting tragedy. From a teenage marriage to her mysterious end in a Paris penthouse, Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiary’s heartbreaking life is worthy of a twisted fairy tale. There’s a reason they called her “the sad-eyed princess”.


Queen Soraya of Iran Facts

1. She Was A Spoiled Heiress

Soraya was groomed for a royal destiny from the very start. The only daughter of Iranian nobleman Khalil Esfandiary and his wife, the German heiress Eva Karl, Soraya grew up in luxury and spent her adolescence shuttling between Berlin and Isfahan while attending the best finishing schools. But even these refined places couldn’t hide her worst quality. 

2. She Had A Foul Temper

Soraya was famous for her half-Iranian, half-German good looks even as a gangly teen—but underneath she wasn’t so pretty. She had a notoriously Teutonic, brusque manner coupled with a bad temper, and could snap in an instant when someone annoyed her. All the same, though, she still had that face…and fate was coming for her.

3. A Single Photo Made Her Queen

Soraya’s legendary beauty preceded her, quite literally. Around 1948, the Queen Mother of Iran, Tadj ol-Molouk, was on the lookout to get her son Shah Mohammad Reza a new wife. She landed on Soraya in an incredible way. Tadj happened to see just a single photo of the girl and decided that she looked like queen material for her son.

What a fairy tale, right? Well, no. There were some disturbing signs from the start.

4. She Was Too Young

The Queen Mother was so gung-ho about Soraya, she sent over one of her daughters to see what the girl was made of. There was just one creepy fly in this ointment: At the time, Soraya was only just finishing up school and was still a painfully young teenager. Not that this stopped the family: The princess, too,  became convinced that Soraya was perfect for her brother.

She quickly informed her family that they had found Iran’s new queen. Then she gave Soraya a shocking proposition.

5. She Attended A Royal Try-Out

The Iranian royal family didn’t mess around. Soraya might have barely graduated from long division, but the clan immediately invited her for a visit to their palace in Tehran all the same. On the surface, it was a little casual meet-and-greet to see how everyone got along with each other. The reality, however, was much more harrowing.

They were formally auditioning Soraya as queen—and this time, her obvious beauty wouldn’t be enough. But in one moment, her world changed forever.

6. She Fell In Love At First Sight

When Soraya went to the royal palace, she was beyond swept away by her promised fairy tale. And it all happened in just one instant: The second, that is, that Shah Mohammad Reza walked into the room. That day, he wore his crisp, pressed military uniform, and the sight turned Soraya love-struck. She described him as “magnificent”.

Aflutter with young love, Soraya wasn’t at all ready for what came next.

7. She Was A Child Bride

If Soraya was googly-eyed over Mohammad Reza, the feeling was more than mutual: The Shah was completely obsessed. But his red flags were there from the beginning. For one, Mohammad was firmly in his 30s and over a decade older than the object of his affections. But this was royal matchmaking, so it still moved fast—much too fast.

8. She Was Betrothed Overnight

The very next day after this auspicious meeting, Soraya’s father—who had accompanied her on the trip—got momentous news. Mohammad Reza and his family thought she was perfect, and he was ready to propose to her right then and there. If Soraya didn’t feel any trepidation about this, her father sure did. After telling his daughter the news, he asked. “Are you ready to marry him?”

Young and in love, she said yes. But there were some VERY big things she may not have realized about her husband.

9. Her Husband’s Family Was A Nightmare

Though Soraya was much too naïve to question her groom, she…should have. For one, her new in-laws were notoriously dysfunctional. The Shah’s father had literally withheld his love in order to make his son more “manly,” and liked to punish people with riding whips. Meanwhile, the Queen Mother was smothering and jealous with her own affection.

Not the best environment for producing good husbands. But that wasn’t even the worst part.

10. Her New Beau Had Major Baggage

Mohammad Reza wasn’t just quite a bit older than the teenage Soraya, he had also been married before. His first wife was the equally beautiful Princess Fawzia of Egypt—and their union ended in horror and infamy. Fawzia had been unsurprisingly miserable in the toxic family dynamic, and they only had one daughter, not a hoped-for son, before they split.

This is a bad enough glimpse into Soraya’s future as Queen of Iran…only, Mohammad’s biggest skeleton hasn’t even come out yet.

11. Her Suitor Was A Cheater

As it happened, Mohammad Reza’s worst qualities had nothing to do with his parents, and everything to do with himself. During his first marriage, he was an absolutely rampant cheater, and his private life was littered with heaps of glamorous mistresses and clandestine rides in luxury cars. Oh yeah, this is going to work out well for Soraya.

12. She May Have Lied About Her Age

Bad idea or not, Soraya had said yes to the Shah, and it would be awfully difficult to back out of such a public engagement. Still, disturbing rumors accompanied their betrothal. To this day, there is some confusion about just how old Soraya was as the big day approached; some people believed the palace lied and said she was 18 when she was really 16.

Whatever the truth, the road to the wedding did NOT go smoothly.

13. Her Wedding Had A Bad Omen

Soraya’s wedding was set for the fast-approaching date of December 27, 1950—until a horrific event occurred. As if the entire universe were saying “don’t do it, girl,” Soraya fell violently ill with typhoid on the very eve of her wedding. As a result, the palace had no choice but to delay the nuptials. Yet when he heard about his fiancée’s illness, the Shah responded with a surprising gesture.

14. Her Fiancé Made A Grand Gesture

Though the Shah was disappointed to delay the royal ceremony, he actually pulled out all the stops for his delirious, bedridden bride. According to lore, Mohammad came to Soraya’s bed every day for the entirety of her sickness just to place a jewel on her pillow. Ok, I might keep this guy around too. Except after this romantic gallantry, the Shah had an alarming about-face.

15. Her Groom Rushed Her

For all his kind understanding and massive jewels, the Shah and his family really wanted to get this wedding on the books. So much so that they re-set the date for the union to just six weeks later, on February 12, 1951. Was it a case of being so in love he couldn’t wait, or did the Shah just want a male heir stat? In any case, it was much too soon—and Soraya paid a terrifyingly high price.

16. Her Wedding Day Was A Secret Nightmare

Keep in mind, Soraya was nothing more than a teenager at the time she married into the Iranian royal family…and she was nowhere near well enough to walk to the altar when the time came. On the morning of her wedding, she was so weak that she could barely stand, and so cold that she shivered in her bridal room. Did this stop the Shah? Nope.

17. Her Dress Has A Chilling Back Story

Today, Queen Soraya’s wedding dress is an iconic part of fashion history. Designed by Christian Dior, the silver lamé gown was a pearl-studded confection trimmed with marabou feathers. Yet most people don’t know the horrible truth. Soraya’s chills were so intense, she had to wear a wool vest and socks under her finery to stop her from shaking. And that wasn’t all.

18. She Nearly Collapsed At The Altar

Soraya’s lavish dress weighed an astonishing 66 pounds, and the ailing and under-developed bride nearly collapsed under its heavy weight. It got so bad that even the “ignore everything at all costs” Shah had to finally take notice. Minutes before they walked down the aisle, he cut off the dress’s train just to make sure his queen could make it through the ceremony.

Now is this a bad omen, or is this a bad omen? But you ain’t seen nothing yet.

19. She Threw Wild Tantrums

It would be easy to paint the beginnings of Soraya and Mohammad Reza’s marriage as a fairy tale. After all, they were desperately in love with each other. But then Soraya’s dark side came out. Remember: She was just 18 (at most) when she became Queen, and the Shah soon found out his bride was very prone to childish outbursts.

One day, though, Soraya took it to another level entirely.

20. She Was A Sore Loser

When Soraya was in a good mood, no one could be sweeter or more charming. But if you crossed her, watch out. One of her worst danger zones was when she and the Shah fought. So after the couple bickered one evening at a public dinner, she stunned their guests by picking up a priceless vase and smashing it against the wall. It was her words, though, that could cut like knives.

21. She Knew How To Hit Where It Hurt

During the worst parts of their relationship, the Shah and Soraya went back and forth at being horrible to each other. But at one dinner party, their dysfunction turned into an utterly chilling spectacle. When the Shah said lightly to his guests that the queen was exactly his type of woman, Soraya cruelly drawled, “Well, I cannot say the same for His Majesty”.

And that was just what went down in public. Behind closed doors, it was nearly unbelievable.

22. She Manipulated The Shah

In these early days, Soraya wasn’t above withholding intimacy from her husband to get what she wanted. She was darn stubborn about it, too. After yet another fight, she banned the Shah from their marriage bed for weeks on end, forcing him to sleep outside her door on a cot. And when someone politely objected to this state of affairs, her comeback was jaw-dropping.

23. She Made A Devastating Comeback

After seeing the royal couple’s obvious bedroom rift, one courtier worked up the courage to delicately suggest that Soraya let His Majesty come back to her bed. They were, after all, supposed to make an heir together. Soraya’s response was incredibly brutal. The vengeful ice queen pointed at a corner of her bed-chamber and snapped, “He can put his bed over there!”

These events sent tongues wagging, but it’s likely no one even knew about their biggest issue.

24. Her Private Life Was Surprising

Soraya definitely brought out the Shah’s fiery side, as their many fights attest to. But even her youthful anger couldn’t change the Shah’s reserved ways—not after his love-starved childhood, anyway. Heartbreakingly, Mohammad was often stiff and shy, even in private and even with his wife. When they were alone together, he often addressed her with the formal Persian “you”.

With all this pressure and dysfunction, Soraya began to rebel.

25. She Had An Infamous Role Model

Soraya adored masked balls, but her behavior around them shocked polite society. One year, the headstrong queen decided she was going to dress up as the notorious French mistress Madame de Pompadour. Utterly scandalized, Soraya’s in-laws made her go as the pious tomboy Joan of Arc instead…but this was just a taste of what Soraya had planned.

26. She Was A Bad Queen

Today, Queen Soraya’s beauty and elegance have made her an icon, but that doesn’t mean she was a good queen. In fact, for all that she was in love with the Shah, there wasn’t much else about being the ruler of Iran that she liked. This reached distressing proportions: Soon enough, she disdained royal customs, often refused to wear formal clothes, and shirked her “boring” duties.

As anyone could have told her, this backfired hugely.

27. Courtiers Hated Her

Mohammad Reza might have thought the world of his new wife, but pretty soon his court had different ideas entirely. They were already suspicious of her European heritage, so her royal tantrums and less-than-stellar devotion to the throne earned her the scornful nickname “that German woman” among Iranian movers and shakers. And they sure didn’t like what they saw next.

28. She Caused An International Incident

In the 1950s, Queen Soraya was embroiled in yet another scandal—this time on an international scale. On a visit to her American friends stateside, she water-skied in Miami while wearing a revealing bikini. It was an absolute catastrophe at the conservative palace, and the photo was even banned in Iran. Maybe it was then that her own family started plotting against her.

29. She Had A Monster-In-Law

The Shah’s first wife had already had very icy relations with her in-laws, so it was no surprise when Soraya didn’t warm to the Queen Mother or her new sisters-in-law, either. But their cruelty toward her was unprecedented. They were straight-up awful, and saw every gesture of love the Shah made to Soraya as a threat to their relationship with him.

Then again, Soraya had her own jealousy issues, and they were about to get out of control.

30. She Had A Jealousy Problem

Although Mohammad Reza didn’t have that coveted male heir yet, he did have his daughter, Princess Shahnaz, from his previous marriage. Unfortunately, Soraya didn’t take to the girl, maybe because Shahnaz was, awkwardly enough, only eight years younger than her. And Soraya certainly found ways to go full-on evil stepmother.

31. She Was An Evil Stepmother

With her in-laws constantly accusing her of “stealing” the Shah’s love, Soraya went and made the exact same accusation to Princess Shahnaz. She hated whenever the girl was around and felt she took too much of her husband’s attention away from her. At one point, Soraya threw an “embarrassing tantrum” while Shahnaz was visiting, demanding to be the center of attention.

In response, the Shah oh-so-lovingly told her to shut up. But Soraya just got more vicious.

32. She Banished Her Step-Daughter

Queen Soraya wanted the Shah all to herself, and she wasn’t about to let his daughter trip her up. Almost immediately after the wedding, Soraya carted the little Princess Shahnaz off to boarding school and nearly cut her out of the Shah’s life entirely. But, like so many of Soraya’s rebellions, this horrific treatment might have come from an incredibly dark place.

33. She Was Missing Something

If Soraya didn’t like the Shah’s daughter Princess Shahnaz, it may have come from fears about having her own children one day. Or rather, about not having her own children. After all, one of her main duties as queen was to give the Shah an heir, and yet three years into the marriage she had not even announced a pregnancy. Soraya began to have one deep fear.

34. She Had One Awful “Failing”

Although there were problems and fights in their marriage, Mohammad Reza and Soraya nonetheless spent plenty of time in the bedroom, and there seemed to be no reason she shouldn’t be pregnant by now. Except, that is, fertility issues. With a sense of dread, the Shah asked Soraya to travel to America for a top-notch medical check-up. The answer stunned her.

35. She Got False Hope

After a long trans-Atlantic trip, Soraya entered a New York doctor’s office and sat down for an examination. Incredibly, against all hope, they had good news. They claimed that the stresses of the past years had naturally made it difficult for her to get pregnant, but there was nothing to worry about when it came to fertility. Tragically, however, this was far from the last word.

36. She Received A Heartbreaking Diagnosis

The New York doctors tried to put the Shah and Soraya’s fears to rest, but the couple still had a small, dark feeling that just wouldn’t go away. To make double sure, they traveled to Boston for a second opinion. The results were heartbreaking. This doctor only confirmed their worst fears: Soraya was indeed infertile and could never give birth to an heir.

It was earth-shattering news, and the couple traveled back to Iran with the ground spinning beneath them. It was going nowhere good.

37. Her Marriage Began To Fall Apart

The royal marriage already had its difficulties, but Soraya’s fertility issues made things nearly impossible. By 1954, Soraya and the Shah were careening toward a breakdown. Their fights got louder and longer as they tried to figure out a way out of their predicament, possibly through the Shah’s brother Ali providing an heir. But that October, they went one step closer to ruin.

38. She Endured A Family Crisis

In the autumn of 1954, complete tragedy visited the Iranian royal family. To everyone’s shock, the Shah’s brother Prince Ali perished in a plane crash at the age of only 32. And when the smoke cleared and the grief was through, it was never more important for the royal family to have a male heir to succeed Mohammad Reza.

Desperate, Soraya began one of the most harrowing periods of her life.

39. She Tried To Save Her Marriage

Ever since she had received her infertility diagnosis, Soraya had undergone a battery of tests and treatments to try to get pregnant. After Prince Ali’s plane crash, she submitted to even more. Yet no matter what she did, nothing seemed to help, and she remained without a child. The longer she stayed that way, the worse things got…

40. Vicious Rumors Swirled About Her

During this trying time, Soraya got the opposite of support from her in-laws. In fact, they were downright vicious. Still jealous of Soraya’s status, the Queen Mother and the royal princesses actively spread gossip around the court about her and her “barren” womb. But then Soraya’s mother-in-law took her cruelty to the next level.

41. She Was Under Surveillance

When there was still a scant hope that Soraya would give Iran an heir, the dowager Tadj ol-Molouk had her courtiers spy on the young queen and keep an eagle eye on her waist and eating habits. One day, she even came up to Soraya and snapped, “So when are you going to give my son a boy?” Nonetheless, Soraya had one more hope left…even if it did come from a bizarre place.

42. She Had One Last Hope

Soraya had never gotten along with her step-daughter Princess Shahnaz, but she soon found herself desperate for the girl’s help. See, Shahnaz had just gotten married to Ardeshir Zahedi, the well-heeled son of a former Prime Minister, and if she could give birth to a male grandson for the Shah, maybe this whole nightmare would just go away. But Soraya was in for a brutal awakening.

43. She Lost Her One Chance

Unfortunately, the Shah despised his daughter’s choice of groom—and this led him to make a damning pronouncement. Mohammad Reza swore that “a Zahedi could not continue the dynasty” and that he would never accept a grandson from the union as his heir. The royal couple was back at square one, but the Shah did have another scandalous idea.

44. Her Husband Made An Indecent Proposal

Once Mohammad Reza realized that Soraya would likely never bear him children, he came up with an unsettling solution. He proposed taking a second wife. Now, this wasn’t uncommon in the Iranian royal family, and the Shah’s own father had several wives in his day. But when Queen Soraya heard the Shah’s brilliant plan, what do you think her reaction was?

45. She Wouldn’t Share Her Love

Soraya was jealous, volatile, and couldn’t even stand to see the Shah talking to his own daughter. So it surprised no one that she rejected his “solution” point-blank, and he was quite frankly lucky she didn’t do worse to him. Instead, Soraya had her own way of getting around the impasse they found themselves in. But it was even stranger, and far more desperate.

46. She Went To Disturbing Lengths To Stay Queen

Fiercely trying to keep her marriage and her position as Iran’s only queen intact, Soraya begged her husband to…change his country’s entire constitution. According to her, everything could be fixed if the Shah just amended the document to let one of his half-brothers rule after him. Sadly, this opened up an entirely new heartbreak.

47. Her Husband Told Her An Enormous Lie

In response to this suggestion, Mohammad Reza said, “sure honey,” but warned Soraya that he would have to ask the “Council of the Wise Men” before changing the constitution and see if they would approve it. Just one problem: This was a bitter lie. There was no such council; the Shah just didn’t want to say no to Soraya and didn’t want to give up his marriage.

Behind the scenes, though, more sinister forces were moving in.

48. The Royal Family Turned Against Her

Soraya and the Shah were having a hard enough go of things on their own, but it was right around this time that her mother-in-law went from needling at Soraya to have a baby to becoming a bona fide enemy at the gates. Yep, the Queen Mother Tadj ol-Molouk now began pestering her son to divorce Soraya and leave her behind in the dust.

The meddling Queen Mother wasn’t the only person Soraya had to worry about, either.

49. She Had An Arch-Enemy

Besides not getting along with Mohammad Reza’s family, Soraya also didn’t get along with his friends. The Shah’s best friend was the courtier Ernest Perron, and the pair were so tight that not only did Perron live in the palace with the Shah, but some even whispered they had an intimate relationship together. Soraya did not share these feelings.

She hated Perron and viewed him as her mortal enemy, publicly calling him “cunning, perfidious and Machiavellian”. But one day, Perron revealed her husband’s brutal betrayal. 

50. The Court Aired Her Dirty Laundry

Although the Shah could be an aloof, closed-off man, he apparently trusted his BFF Perron with his dirtiest secrets. Soraya found this out the hard way: One day, Perron visited Soraya and suddenly started regaling her with “lewd” advice about her bedroom life, and it became clear that the Shah had kissed and told about all their intimate troubles.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Soraya was about to prove she was not to be trifled with.

51. She Flexed Her Power

Queen Soraya’s hatred for Ernest Perron needed no stoking, but after he made these inappropriate advances, it was complete game over. She’d had enough of everyone telling her what her business was when it came to her husband, and she demanded that the Shah kick out Perron from the palace. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long—and it didn’t save her marriage.

52. Her Divorce Was Heard Round The World

In March 1958, Soraya’s life with the Shah came to an abrupt halt. After years of trying and countless pressures, marital negotiations between them broke down completely. On March 14, Iran officially announced that the royal couple was divorcing and that Soraya would no longer be their queen. Oh, but there was much more to the story than that.

53. She Wasn’t Ready For The Split

Although the official divorce announcement made everything seem black and white between Soraya and her husband, it sure as heck wasn’t. Soraya had been living in Europe away from the Shah at the time of the broadcast—and when she heard the news, she claimed that the announcement completely blindsided her. What really happened was gut-wrenching.

54. Her Husband Made One Last Phone Call

According to Soraya, it really went down like this: Nine days before the palace put out its announcement, Mohammad Reza had called her up and begged her to let him take a second wife, or he’d have no choice but to divorce her. Although Soraya refused again, she thought they still had time to turn things around. The Shah’s response, however, wasn’t any better.

55. Her Husband Broke Down

For all their drama—and let’s be real, there was a lot of it—not even Soraya’s most bitter enemy could say the Shah didn’t love her. The Shah’s reaction to his divorce was pitiful. When Mohammad Reza spoke to the Iranian people during the announcement, he wept openly. A British Ambassador even admitted that Soraya was the Shah’s “only true love”.

With all this pain and suffering, it was supposed to be the end of the road for the royal couple. But Soraya’s tragic love story was far from over.

56. Her Ex Gave Her A Parting Present

Soraya was supposed to now fade into obscurity and live a “normal” life. From the beginning, that’s not what happened. As Soraya stepped down from her royal title, the Shah gave her a parting gift of a luxe penthouse suite in her beloved Paris, a hefty monthly allowance, and other more “modest” presents like a Rolls-Royce Phantom and a juicy Bulgari ruby.

They were ostensibly farewell gifts, but they had some big ulterior motives.

57. She Couldn’t Move On

Soraya and Mohammad Reza just couldn’t quit each other. Before long, the situation got scandalous. Although everybody knew the Shah was still very much in love with his ex-wife, the aides at the palace wanted to believe the situation was cut and dry. Once more, it wasn’t: They reportedly “met” in private several times after the divorce.

As we’ll see, their reunion didn’t even end there. But before that, Soraya had to live her worst nightmare.

58. The Shah Replaced Her

Mohammad Reza was now desperate for an heir, and his next actions proved it. In 1959, just a year after their acrimonious divorce, Soraya had to watch the Shah remarry the beautiful, young, and probably fertile Farah Diba in a lavish ceremony. Afterward, the entire world sat and watched to see if Farah would produce a royal son at long last. The answer was crushing.

59. Her Competition Upstaged Her

The new Queen Farah of Iran didn’t struggle in the slightest to give the Shah children. In fact, in October of 1960—almost exactly nine months after the wedding—she gave birth. Then it got even crueler. Farah had a healthy boy, the Crown Prince Reza. That one had to hurt Soraya, but she did her best to move on. Her way of coping, however, was somewhat surprising.

60. She Became A Hollywood Starlet

After ending her tenure as the Queen of Iran in tragedy, Soraya had a strange second life—as a film star. Hollywood had always fascinated her, and with her legendary beauty, she snagged roles in classics like The Three Faces under only her first name, which is how you know she was legit. But with Hollywood fame came Hollywood drama…

61. She Started A Steamy Affair

While shooting The Three Faces, Soraya followed in many an ingénue’s footsteps and started a steamy affair with one of her directors, the Italian dynamo Franco Indovina. Obviously, Soraya wanted to forget all about her first life as a queen and distract herself with a passionate rebound. It was as much as she deserved, but there was just one big problem.

62. She Had A Second Shot At Love

Soraya always jumped into a romance with both feet, and in the end Indovino became more than just a rebound; Soraya named him as the “second love of her life”. Except she was getting ahead of herself. Indovina might have been her boyfriend, but he was also very married to another woman. Yes, this state of affairs ended in disaster—but not for the reasons you might think.

63. She Experienced A Fatal Tragedy

In 1972, Soraya had been through enough pain to last a lifetime, but fate wasn’t through with her yet. That year, she got the most agonizing news of her life. This time, it wasn’t divorce but a fatal accident. Her illicit lover Indovina had perished in a fiery plane crash after Alitalia Flight 112 ran into Mount Longa. The shock was simply too much for her.

64. She Quit Everything

Soraya must have thought she’d gotten a second chance at love, and here it was ripped right out of her hands. Indovina’s passing left her bereft and severely depressed, and her film career stalled. She eventually retreated to her penthouse and Parisian high society, intending to live the rest of her life quietly. Once more, though, she was in for a surprise.

65. She Wanted A Fairy Tale Romance

Even while she was married to the Shah, Soraya complained bitterly that he was willing to throw her aside for the sake of his crown. She hopelessly wished he would behave like her friend King Edward VIII, who gave up his own throne in a gesture of commitment for his divorcée lover Wallis Simpson. Little did she know at the time, but Soraya almost got her wish.

66. She Wrote The Shah A Goodbye Letter

In 1979, Soraya was still reeling from her immense losses and dragging her past behind her. Then her life took another dark twist. She found out that Shah Mohammad Reza was now dying of cancer, and would be gone within months. Although they had been apart for more than 20 years, Soraya couldn’t help writing him a letter. Its contents were heartbreaking.

67. She Requested A Secret Meeting

In her heartfelt writings to the Shah, Soraya exposed her deepest, longest-held secret: She still loved him, and she had never stopped loving him. But Soraya didn’t leave him with just words. She also swore that if he would have her, she wanted to see him one last time before he passed. All that she could do now was wait for the Shah’s reply.

68. She Had A Romeo And Juliet Love Story

Soraya and her Shah truly were fairy-tale lovers, because Mohammad Reza’s response back has any Cinderella story beat. Mohammad Reza confessed that he, too, had never stopped loving her and that he was desperate to say goodbye to her in person. But before he could even think about doing that, he had to get over one obstacle.

69. She Was A Star-Crossed Lover

Though the Shah truly wanted to see Soraya, there was something big in the way. Namely, he was still married to Farah Diba, who had given him four children over the years. But, er, this didn’t stop him for any moral reason—rather, it was just that Farah was always at his side, nursing him through cancer, and he couldn’t get away from her easily.

So, he made a scandalous suggestion.

70. She Was The Other Woman

To get around his wife and see his long-lost love, Mohammad Reza wanted to wait until he could meet Soraya, secretly and alone, in Cairo. If his attendants organized it well enough, Farah would be none the wiser, and he could still get to say goodbye one last time to his beloved former queen. Like so much in Soraya’s life, however, this was doomed from the start.

71. She Never Got To See Her Love Again

To Soraya’s great heartache, this illicit meeting never went through. The reason why is even more tragic than you think. The only thing that stopped Mohammad Reza from seeing the plan through was death itself. He passed before the star-crossed lovers could manage to arrange their meeting. And if you think that’s dramatic, just wait.

72. Her Throne Was In Danger

Soraya’s brief, seven-year reign as Queen was tumultuous. Even as she dealt with infertility, the Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh started trying to take over her royal husband’s powers. When the Shah grew depressed and inactive over the strife, Soraya reacted in the exact opposite way. She reportedly went full Lady Macbeth…

73. Her Husband Disgusted Her

One day during this crisis, Soraya was so sick of her husband moping around his palace that she marched up and demanded he do nothing less than launch a coup against the government. He refused—and her reply was chilling. She said he disgusted her, later confessing, “I could no longer bear the weak man he had become”. I don’t know about that one, Raya.

74. She Was Full Of Self-Hatred

Throughout her reign, many Iranians accused Soraya of prejudice against their culture. Unfortunately, the truth was even worse than they imagined. Though Soraya always struggled with her nomadic upbringing and never felt at home anywhere, she also explicitly favored Western European culture over Iranian customs. She even criticized the Shah when he displayed what she thought of as “Oriental” behaviors.

Still, for all this, no one could say she deserved her heartbreaking end.

75. She Became A Recluse

By 1980, Soraya had loved and lost three times in her life—twice to the same man. After the Shah’s death, she was a thoroughly broken woman, and she spent the rest of her life in the chic neighborhood of Elysee in Paris, keeping up her social circle of duchesses and celebrities while staying under the radar. Yet when the former Queen of Iran’s end came, it was anything but elegant.

76. She Met A Mysterious End

On October 26, 2001, Soraya was found, cold and lifeless, in her apartment in Paris. Chillingly, the reasons for her demise are “undisclosed,” and questions linger to this day about her ultimate fate. No one has ever come forward about the cause of her death or the circumstances leading up to it, putting a huge question mark at the end of her life. Yet there’s something even eerier.

77. Her Family Had A Curse

Soraya’s passing was disconcerting enough, but before the coroners could probably even solidify their reports, another tragedy struck. Soraya’s younger brother Bijan also died, just after commenting on his sister’s passing that “After her, I don’t have anyone to talk to”. This cluster of family deaths had led some to suspect foul play, which only deepens the mystery of her end.

78. She Earned A Tragic Nickname

Soraya’s star-crossed story has attracted plenty of Rome and Juliet comparisons, and people remain fascinated and touched by her royal fall from grace. In fact, this tragic history earned her the nickname “The Sad-Eyed Princess,” since even through the photographs of her at the time, everyone could see the turmoil going on behind her eyes.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

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